This Might be Pointless, but...

As you guys may remember, last month I asked "What Should a Person Do?" when confronted with a situation where authors of a paper published something they knew to be false. I still don't have a good answer, but today, I took one step in potentially addressing the issue by contacting the journal of the paper this particular example was published in. I thought I'd post it here as well so people could see. Maybe I should have done that first so I could get feedback?

Hello,

I am writing to you to inform you a paper recently published in your journal contains a statement its authors knew to be false. Moreover, they knew this statement exaggerates results of their own work. I believe this to be a breach of ethics.

The paper in question is:

Does It Matter if the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming Is 97% or 99.99%?

It was published on May 2, 2007, by the authors:

Andrew G. Skuce, John Cook, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Ken Rice, Sarah A. Green, Peter Jacobs, Dana Nuccitelli

This paper refers to a previous paper most of those authors collaborated on, labeled C13. The authors describe this paper as being a study where people (primarily the team of authors) rated 11,944 abstracts of scientific papers to determine if those papers endorsed the consensus on global warming. In the paper published in your journal, the authors claim abstracts would be rated as endorsing the consensus only if they stated "implicitly or explicitly, that humans are the main cause" of global warming.

That claim is false. The rating criteria used in the paper contains seven categories regarding the cause of global warming, three of which were considered endorsements. Those three are:

1) Explicit endorsement with quantification
2) Explicit endorsement without quantification
3) Implicit endorsement

At a glance, it is obvious "endorsement without quantification" cannot indicate endorsement of the idea humans are the main cause. The third category has in its description, "research assumes greenhouse gas emissions cause warming without explicitly stating humans are the cause." If humans are not stated to be the cause of global warming, they are certainly not stated to be the main cause.

That many of these abstracts do not indicate humans are the main cause of global warming can be readily verified by looking at the abstracts themselves. 3,896 abstracts were rated as endorsing the consensus, but only 64 of those were placed in category 1. The remaining 3,832 abstracts do not indicate humans are the main cause (unless they were miscategorized).

We could engage in a lengthy discussion of specific abstracts to prove this. However, a more direct solution would be to look at the authors own statements regarding their understanding of their project. This will not only demonstrate C13 did not document any consensus on the idea humans are the "main cause" of global warming, but also, that the authors of this current paper were fully aware of that.

This is what Dana Nuccitelli, second author of C13 and author of the current paper, said when designing the rating system used for C13:

1. Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+% cause of the observed warming (or consistent with the IPCC, or something similar)
2. Explicitly endorses but does not quantify AGW
3. Implicitly endorses AGW (by definition does not quantify)
4. Neutral
5. Implicitly minimizes AGW (i.e. says the sun is playing a big role)
6. Explicitly minimizes AGW (less than 50%, less than IPCC, less than consensus, etc.)
7. Explicitly says there’s no anthropogenic effect on climate/temperature
For ‘humans are causing most of the warming’, #1 qualifies as an endorsement, while #5 through 7 are rejections.
For ‘humans are causing warming’, #1 through 3 are endorsements, while only #7 is a rejection.

Nuccitelli said Category 1 is the only category which indicates endorsement of the idea :humans are causing most of the warming." Categories 1-3 only indicate "humans are causing warming," without any sort of quantification. This is why he said:

The way I see the final paper is that we’ll conclude ‘There’s an x% consensus supporting the AGW theory, and y% explicitly put the human contribution at >50%’.

Plugging in the results into this statement would give:

There’s a 97% consensus supporting the AGW theory, and 45% put the human contribution at >50%.

According to the author's own formulation, only 45% of their abstracts "put the human contribution at" greater than half. He said this on a message board all the authors of the current paper (Ken Rice) were active in and read to get guidance on how to participate in the research project.

Ultimately, the members of that project decided not to go with Nuccitelli's formulation. They kept his rating system but chose not to examine the two consensus positions individually. John Cook, head of that project and author of the current paper (as well as owner of the message board this was discussed on) said:

Okay, so we've ruled out a definition of AGW being "any amount of human influence" or "more than 50% human influence". We're basically going with Ari's porno approach (I probably should stop calling it that 🙂 which is AGW = "humans are causing global warming". Eg - no specific quantification which is the only way we can do it considering the breadth of papers we're surveying.

Whatever the merits of this decisions, the authors intentionally chose to publish their results in the vaguely defined terms of, "Humans are cuasing global warming" which they knew to not entail any specific quantification. They had the option of examining the strength of the consensus humans are the "main cause" of global warming, but they chose not to publish any results on that issue. It is inappropriate for them to now turn around and pretend they did so.

This e-mail has gotten rather lengthy so I will stop it here. If you would like documentation, references or further evidence, I am happy to provide them. There are many other comments by these authors showing they knew their results did not indicate humans are the "main cause" of global warming, including rater remarks submitted along with their ratings of individual abstracts.

I cannot say why this false claim was included in the paper, and I imagine it may have been inadvertent, but the statement is obviously false to anyone familiar with C13. The authors are certainly aware it is false.

Regards,
Brandon Shollenberger

10 comments

  1. Thanks. That just shows it would have helped to post this before sending it. I could have avoided sending an e-mail with a bad typo.

  2. What a mess of an argument.
    You are right, but the whole thing needs to be re written

    From the start

    "I am writing to you to inform you a paper recently published in your journal contains a statement its authors knew to be false. Moreover, they knew this statement exaggerates results of their own work. I believe this to be a breach of ethics."

    "I am writing to you to inform you a paper recently published in your journal contains a false statement. Further, the authors either knew this statement was false or should have known it was false. I believe this maybe a breach of ethics."

    since youre not a mind reader you dont know what they knew. Further you dont get to decide what is a breach. they do. They can ignore it as trivial.

    I agree with you one this paper, but the way you write and state your case makes me want to stop reading after the first few paragraphs.
    Annoying, grating, confusing.. just horrible

  3. Steven Mosher, you can whine about how terrible my writing supposedly is, but the specific issues you raise are silly. Saying a person knows something does not require being a mind-reader. There are many ways to establish a person's awareness of a matter. I could provide plenty of examples of you claiming a person knew something based upon far less than what i provided in this e-mail. As for:

    Further you dont get to decide what is a breach. they do. They can ignore it as trivial.

    Saying "I believe this to be a breach of ethics." does not mean I think I get to decide what is a breach. That is the purpose of saying, "I believe." It means I believe what I say is true, and I am bringing it to your attention so you can decide if you agree.

    I don't claim to be a great writer, and I am happy to receive constructive feedback, but your feedback is terrible. Then again, your writing is routinely terrible so that's no surprise. (Yes, I went there. You're a terrible writer.)

  4. I don't see the difference on the second point, 'maybe(sic)' and 'to be'. I think he is right on the first. The authors have been telling this story so much, they may very well believe it by now.

  5. MikeN, while it would be interesting to hear a defense consisting of this entire group of people deluding themselves like you suggest, I'm afraid you're wrong about the authors telling this story that much. I have seen over a hundred public statements from authors on this paper discussing C13. Only a few give the same depiction as this paper does. Of them, the most notable are a paper John Cook was co-author of and a document prepared in response to Richard Tol's criticisms.

    The vast majority of the things these people have said (at least in public) accurately provide the vague "consensus" C13 used. On top of this, the authors are certainly aware of people raising this very issue. One of the authors, Ken Rice (also know as the blogger Anders) has read a number of posts I've written about this and even discussed the issue, in the last year.

    I get an untruth can become believed even by people who ought to know better, but even in 2016 when these people (and others) wrote a "consensus on consensus" paper, they didn't make this misrepresentation. These people have made this misrepresentation only a small number of times (in proportion to the number of times they've talked about the result). They haven't deluded themselves into believing it.

  6. That's an interesting idea Ron Graf. I shouldn't take the fact there's little to no interest in something in the climate blogosphere as indicating there would be no interest anywhere. I bet I could get more people to pay attention if i put more work into advertising/outreach. I'll have to give that some thought.

  7. Again brandon you have near zero success with your approach

    "Steven Mosher, you can whine about how terrible my writing supposedly is, but the specific issues you raise are silly. Saying a person knows something does not require being a mind-reader. There are many ways to establish a person's awareness of a matter. I could provide plenty of examples of you claiming a person knew something based upon far less than what i provided in this e-mail."

    yes it would require you to be a mind reader. Nothing is their behavior suggests that they believe it to be false
    and persist in claiming it to be true. you simply dont have access to their mental state. You can only observe their
    behavior. Their behavior can be explained by tow hypotheses about their mental state

    1. They believe it ( and of course are deluded)
    2. they know it to be false and are being deceptive.

    i suppose if I found a mail wherre they said "Lets just say X, no one will know" then you could say they knew it to be false.

    The point I am making is however Rhetorical. My experience of catching folks in falsehoods and confronting them in years of
    business indicate to be that you do much better if you understate your case. I think you lied. In fact I'm pretty sure. When
    I write a message to your boss, I'm never going to say that. I might say "mistaken", or misleading, or uniformed, or wrong,
    your boss of course will come to his own conclusion. And that's what you are doing. the journal is in charge, you'll do better
    if your approach shows some deference ( however unjustified you think it is) to them.

    basically, you seem to have certain blind spots when it comes to the social aspects of communication.

    it is one thing to disreguard civility on purpose for effect. It is quite another thing to never be aware of these things to begin with.

    I feel sorry for your friend.

  8. Steven Mosher, it's remarkable how you sometimes give lectures to people on things they know fully well as though they have no idea. The reality is I've made the same point you make about understating one's case a number of times on this very site. You may think I have a blind spot regarding this matter because I disagree with your conclusion, but you're wrong. I simply recognize there are times when understating one's case can be inappropriate and levels of understatement that go too far.

    In this situation, I did understate my case. What that authors did was a breach of ethics. I would defend that statement in any forum. I didn't make it though. I intentionally understated the point to an extent. You've ignored that, seemingly because I didn't understate things as much as you think I should have. You've then given a lecture on the values of understatement.

    My experience is you simply don't read what I write in a clear-headed manner Mosher. You never have. You've come up with so many ridiculous misinterpretations of what I've said, usually to paint me at some sort of fault nobody should take your statements seriously. I don't know if I'm special or if you treat everybody the same way, but your responses to things I say routinely border on being delusional.

    Yes, you're that bad.

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